Food & Drink

Grits, when prepared right, are quite tasty

Early one morning, an excited group gathered at the airport for our much-awaited tour of The Biltmore in North Carolina. Once there, we were not disappointed — the weather was beautiful, the fall mountain colors were vibrant, and our group quickly meshed and became friends. At The Biltmore, we enjoyed a cooking demonstration with Chef Munoz.

He gathered us around the teaching island, and together, we assisted him as he made shrimp and grits, a North Carolina specialty. Chef explained that the Biltmore always uses local shrimp when in season. When fresh local shrimp are not available, they use only shrimp produced in the United States — never imported shrimp. The chef removed the shells and used them for making a very flavorful stock that he turned into a rich sauce.

Then he explained about grits, that Southern staple. Now, I don’t know about you, but my early experience with grits on my breakfast plate at a chain restaurant was less than memorable. The first time I encountered them, I could not imagine their appeal and that people really liked grits. Since then, I have learned that, if prepared properly, they are quite tasty. But it takes the addition of butter, cream, cheese and a little cayenne pepper to make them palatable. However, I was delighted to see the chef was on the same page as I. And he very generously made those additions, which created delicious grits for his dish.

If you are not a Southerner, you may have the same question as one of our readers.

What is the difference between grits and polenta and cornmeal?

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Grits

are coarse-ground corn. Sometimes they are made from coarse-ground hominy, thus the term “hominy-grits.” Grits are a traditional Southern staple, usually served for breakfast or, when embellished with additional ingredients, as a side for other meals.



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Polenta

also is made from ground yellow or white corn and can be ground coarsely or finely depending upon the region. One brand of dry polenta found in local supermarkets has a label that says “Grits also known as Polenta.”



Some supermarkets also carry cooked polenta in tubes in the refrigerated section. Polenta originally was classified as peasant food but in recent years has made its way onto the menus of trendy restaurants. There, we often see it used as a base and topped with flavorful braised dishes or other sauces. Sometimes it is even chilled, then cut into various shapes and grilled or sauteed. It is highly versatile and a popular item in Italian cuisine.

•  Cornmeal is made from grinding corn into fine, medium or coarse grind. Stone-ground cornmeal has some of the husk and germ intact, is very flavorful and contains more nutrition. However, it is more perishable and needs to be stored in the refrigerator for longer shelf life. To add to the confusion, cornmeal also is often used to make polenta. Only the coarse ground would be used for grits.

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